Posted on

World Café

Object of Play

What’s the difference between a business meeting and a conversation at a café? The World Café is a method for improving large-group discussion by borrowing concepts from the informal “café” conversations that we have all the time: round tables, cross pollinating ideas, and pursuing questions that matter.

As a conversational process, the World Café may take on many forms. Here is a “quick start” flow to consider, which focuses on the basics.

Number of Players

24–30 participants in groups of 4–5 at round tables

Duration of Play

1.5 hours


As the leader, you will need to find the “questions that matter” which will guide the rounds of discussion. A powerful question will be evocative and simple; it should be immediately tangible and relevant to a challenge the group faces. The group may focus on one question or move through a group of subsequent questions. For example, “How might we start having more real conversations with our customers?” may be enough to sustain three rounds of discussion.

Develop your questions that matter, and then focus on creating an inviting and hospitable environment for the event. This may not be an easy task in typical conference spaces.  Some things to keep in mind include the fact that round tables are better for conversation than square tables, and each table should be equipped with drawing supplies such as markers, flip charts, and/or paper tablecloths.

How to Play

The event consists of three 20-minute rounds of group discussion at tables, followed by a group synthesis. After each round, one person stays behind to serve as a “host” of the next round, while the rest travel to other tables as “ambassadors.” In this sense, participants have a chance to go “around the world” and bring their ideas with them from table to table.

During the rounds of discussion, encourage participants to link ideas from one round to the next.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Spend the first few minutes talking about the last conversation. The “host” can present ideas left at the table, and the “ambassadors” should talk about what they’ve brought from their respective places.
  • Leave evidence. Draw key ideas out on the table. For the next group to appreciate the previous conversation, they will need some artifacts to respond to and build on.
  • Connect diverse viewpoints and respect contributions. If needed, use a “talking stick” or button to manage each other’s input.
  • Look for patterns. By the second and third rounds, themes and larger patterns will emerge in the discussion. Encourage participants to look for these and make them evident by drawing or writing them toward the middle of the tables.

After the last round, it’s time for a town hall discussion to synthesize what the groups have discovered. Referring back to the questions that matter, ask what the answers were at the different tables, and how they are connected.

A community of practitioners maintains the evolving methodology, process, history, and design principles at

Posted on

Make A World

Make a World by @benry

Object of Play

The Make a World game appeals to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners because of its layers of interaction. It’s useful (and downright fun) because it lets players imagine the future and take action to create a first version of it. All successful ventures start with a vision and some small, initial effort toward crystallization. Alexander Graham Bell’s vision for the telephone started as highly rudimentary sketches. The purpose of Make a World is to create a three-dimensional model of a desired future state.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

45 minutes to 1.5 hours

How to Play

  1. Before the meeting, determine a meeting topic. It can be any topic that would benefit from the group advancing it to a desired future state (e.g., “Our new branch location in Austin” or “Our future marketing strategy”).
  2. Tell the players the meeting topic and give them access to flip-chart paper, markers,sticky notes, pipe cleaners, modeling clay, magazines, index cards, tape—any art supplies available to help them “make a world.”
  3. Break the players into groups of three or four and give them 10–15 minutes to agree on a shared vision to make into a three-dimensional world. Explain that the world can include people, scenes, buildings, products and features, and anything they deem necessary to show an idealized version of the topic.
  4. Give the players 20–30 minutes to brainstorm the attributes of the world and physically create it using art supplies.
  5. When the time is up, give the players five minutes to create a slogan or tag line to summarize their world.
  6. Have each group showcase their “Eden” and give the others insight into what it offers. Make note of any recurring themes or parallel features in these “fantasy lands.”


Any desired state can be visualized. The game isn’t confined to creating 3D models of widgets or parks or products or real estate. The “world” that players create could be anew landscape for a video game, a happier and more aligned team, a globally distributed supply chain, and so forth. The challenge for each group will be in the process of ideating and creating without shutting out possibilities. Encourage them to be expansive in their thinking. In this game, players are limited only by their imaginations and their art supplies.

The title of this game was inspired by Ed Emberley’s book, Make a World.

Posted on

Mood Board

Mood Board

Object of Play

The object of this game is to create a poster or collage that captures the overall “feel” of an idea. The mood board may be used throughout development as a frame of reference or inspiration. It may be composed of visual or written artifacts—photos clipped from magazines, physical objects, color swatches, or anything that communicates the overall flow and feel of an idea.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 2 hours

How to Play

Although mood boards are common in design disciplines, creating a mood board does not require professional expertise. Any group that is at the beginning of a project may benefit from creating a mood board; all they need is the raw material and the idea to interpret.

Gather visual material from stacks of magazines, the Web, or even corporate presentations.Everything else—scissors, tape, blank paper, and flip charts—can be found in most office supply closets. Bring the group together around the materials and the theme that they will be interpreting. Here are some to consider:

  • “Our Culture”
  • “Next Year”
  • “The New Product”

Small teams may co-create a single mood board from individual contributions; larger groups may interpret the theme separately and then share them with each other. It’s Important that every participant gets a chance to contribute elements to the board and to explain their imagery.


When participants are selecting and contributing elements to a board they are best advised to do so “from the gut” and not to overly rationalize their choices. A mood board is an artifact that captures the “feel” of an idea, not a comprehensive description or a requirements document!

The game is complete when the board is complete, but the board should live on after the process. It is invaluable to keep the board visible and persistent throughout development.

Mood boards are a traditional design practice and are often a feature in the architectural practice called charette—an intense period of collaborative group design activity around a shared goal.

Posted on

The Blind Side

Object of Play

Every human being has blind spots and every company does, too. Knowledge openness can enhance businesses and relationships while knowledge blindness can make things unnecessarily more difficult. In other words, what we don’t know can hurt us. The military refers to this as “the fog of war.” The premise of this game, therefore, is to disclose and discover unknown information that can impact organizational and group success in any area of the company—management, planning, team performance, and so forth.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30–45 minutes

How to Play

  1. Before the meeting, decide on a topic for discussion. Draw a large-scale profile of a person and draw four arrows coming out of the top of the head. Label those arrows “Know/Know”, “Know/Don’t Know”, “Don’t Know/Know”, and “Don’t Know/Don’t Know”.
  2. Give the players access to sticky notes and markers and tell them that the purpose of this game is to try to make explicit the knowledge they have, and the knowledge they don’t have but could use.
  3. Start with the Know/Know category. Elicit from the group all information about the topic that they know they know. This category should go quickly and should gener- ate a lot of content. Ask the players to write one bit of knowledge per sticky note and cluster them near the arrow pertaining to that category. (They’ll do this for each category.)
  4. Next, tackle Know/Don’t Know. This category will go less quickly than the first but should still generate plenty of content. Again, ask them to cluster the sticky notes near the related arrow.
  5. Move to Don’t Know/Know. This information could be skills people have that are currently not used to solve problems or untapped resources that have been forgotten.
  6. Last, move to Don’t Know/Don’t Know. The group will be stopped here, possibly indefinitely. This category is where discovery and shared exploration take place. Ask the players provocative questions: What does this team know that your team doesn’t know it doesn’t know? How can you find out what you don’t know you don’t know?
  7. Ask the group what they can do to proactively address the distinct challenges of each category. Discuss insights and “aha’s”. Even if the players’ only revelation is that they have blind spots, this in itself can be a fruitful discovery.


This game works best with a familiar team when the participants cross disciplines and responsibilities. Having a diverse group enhances the feedback loop for the Don’t Know categories, which are where the players are going to get stuck. They’ll be confident about what they know—and even about what they know they don’t know—but without an outside perspective, it’s next to impossible to declare what we don’t know we don’t know. The nature of this question warrants discussion and the solicitation of others’ observations.

Because this game has an obvious trust-building component, start by sharing easy information and move toward more substantive information depending on the players’ comfort level. Keep the group on business- or project-related topics and away from personal evaluations. Although The Blind Side can be used as a psychological assessment, the self-help applications of this game should be conducted outside the business setting, unless you’re dealing with the rare group that’s into that.

The Blind Side is inspired by and adapted from the Johari Window, a communication model developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham.

Posted on 1 Comment

Making The Game Come Alive

The most exciting thing about gamestorming is the creativity it allows me. I’m essentially freed to create an experience perfectly suited for my audience. Because while the games the folks at Xplane have created are effective, they are still just “old standards.” They are like Monopoly® or Scrabble®. Everyone can play and everyone can enjoy. But when a game is created specifically for a situation or an audience, it can be truly magical and memorable

Recently I went to run a gamestorm for a friend. After years at an agency he helped found, he allowed his partner to buy him out and was now questing for the 2.0 of his career. So while many of the suggested games may have worked, the personal nature of his need to uncover his true passion and brand demanded something more.

Now this friend is also a musician. Okay, let’s face it — He’s an old hippie musician. He used to play in bands in the 70s, still shreds a mean guitar and quotes lyrics from America and stuff. So I knew that a game involving music would both intrigue and inspire him.

But music was just a mechanic. The game still needed structure. That’s when the idea of creating a game structured around a comeback album came to me.

Just like when creating songs, we would start out with what inspired us. We’d stay focused on business, but we’d talk about both our personal and professional inspirations. And from that we would derive the basis of song ideas or “riffs”. Then we’d group these elements into “chords” (artifacts), arrange our chords into “progressions” (nodes), create  “songs” (pattern recognition and door closing) and then identify our formula for a hit song (end game or goal).

Here’s a glimpse of the game we worked from:

The Comeback Album of The Decade Game


Famous rockstar agency principle and creative god, [redacted], has had a long and distinguished career in the classic rock powerhouse group, [redacted]. Now he finds himself out on his own ready to recast himself into the next chapter of his career. He’s in the planning stages of his big comeback album and we need to help.

The game will be broken into five distinct parts.

  • We will determine what riffs we want to hit (one hour)
  • We will establish “chords” for those life notes (half hour)
  • We will arrange the “chords” into hot progressions (half hour)
  • We will play with possible “songs” (half hour)
  • We will identify our formula for “hit” songs (half hour + after game assessment)

Part I:

Finding our Riffs: We put on post-up’s everything that we love in life and in marketing, whether we have done it or not. These will form our riffs for the song. This is beyond expertise. This is about the expanse of what we want stand for in life and work. (60 min)

Part II:

Next we will group the ideas into common themes and see what initial patterns are observed. We will also identify outliers and eliminate them from the discussion. Then once grouped, major idea groups will be assigned major power chords, while supporting idea groups will get minor chords. (30 min)

Part III:

Next we will arrange our chords into logical progressions and test to make sure that the chords work well together. As a mnemonic we will use actual guitars to test the chords and make sure the progressions make sense musically and make adjustments as necessary. (30 min)

Part IV:

We will then take items from each grouping to form our songs, mixing and matching across each progression to understand how each progression works and what it means to the song as a whole. Guitars may be used to play our songs. We will then test how one progression leads to the next and arrange the progressions in order of importance or impact. (30 min)

Part V:

We will finally have our discussions to start closing off the loops and identifying what is working best in an attempt to create our hit formula. Will use star-shaped post its to boil down the intent of each progression into an even simpler idea. The result being the “anthem” or brand essence of this new band will be. (30 min + after-session assessment)

Out of respect for privacy, I won’t share many details about how the game ran. But I can tell you that the day was a phenomenal success.

Using off-the-shelf post-up notes, post-up letters (to represent the chords), markers, star-shaped post-ups (to indicate our “hits”) and guitars, we were able to set aside the concerns of what he should be doing and get focused on what he should be feeling. In fact, the biggest patterns that emerged had nothing to do with the services he wished to offer. Instead, we found themes about ethics and employee relations that defined his personal fulfillment as coming more from being a leader than a doer.

Now I don’t want to fool you here. This game did not run perfectly. It was the first time I ran it and I changed plenty on the fly to keep it fresh and alive. When running a new game you have to expect things not to work. It also felt like there was a dead spot during the song writing because my own energy was flagging. (Note to self: afternoon pot of coffee and maybe skip lunch.)

But ultimately the game’s success is determined by the players enjoyment, not the game master’s sense of accomplishment. And on that front, it was a raving success. My friend could not tear his eyes off the wall. He wanted to keep it up for a few weeks just to contemplate it. And after I wrote my assessment and emailed it to him, I could see why. There was real direction hiding there in terms of what his next steps should be.

I also learned a valuable lesson about gamestorming. Since the concept was developed by artists, the examples of play given in the book lean toward the visual. But there are all kinds of games. And in our case, the game was auditory.

During our game there was a lot of repeating themes out loud and listening to them in musical form. The visual was still present, but the game was designed to stimulate the ears. And the resulting insights were things that needed to be said, rather than seen.

For me, this understanding of game structure helps me understand that there are five senses present with any player. Taking advantage of these senses in game structure and leveraging the most applicable ones, will always make the game more relevant and memorable.

Bob Knorpp is a marketing and advertising strategist. He is host of Ad Age Outlook and The BeanCast Marketing Podcast.

Posted on 1 Comment

Welcome To My World

Overlap Toronto

Object of Play

Many of us make the mistaken assumption that others see what we see and know what we know. No one in the world shares your internal system map of reality. The best way to compare notes, so to speak, is to actually draw an external representation of what you think is happening. Welcome to My World gives players an opportunity to better understand other players’ roles and responsibilities. It helps chip away at silos and introduces the novel idea that we may be seeing only one reality: ours. It helps immensely to show what we see to others so that we can start to share a reality and work on it together.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Give all players access to flip-chart paper, markers, and sticky notes. Ask them to take 30 seconds to write one of their job responsibilities (e.g., create the company newsletter or devise a marketing strategy for Product X) on a sticky note and stick it to their shirt.

2. Have the players wander around the room and pair up with someone whose job responsibility they’re the least familiar with or that they’re curious about. If you have an odd number of players, join them to even it out.

3. In pairs, ask the players to take turns drawing their best representation of how they envision the other person’s workflow around that job duty. They can use simple circles, boxes, and arrows to make flowcharts or they can get creative, but they cannot interview the other player or ask any clarifying questions while they’re drawing.  Give them 5–15 minutes to draw quietly.

4. When the time is up, give each player five minutes to share her drawing with the other person and describe what it means.

5. Then give the pairs 5–10 minutes each to clarify or agree on the realities of each other’s drawing. They should also take time to discuss where the areas of ease, friction, and interactions with others fall in the process. They can elaborate and draw on the other person’s visual at this point, or the original creator of the visual can add content as his partner shares.

6. Ask for volunteers to show their visuals to the larger group and to describe some of their insights and observations.


To be maximally effective, this game has one requirement: the players should represent a range of positions or job responsibilities within an organization. The game rapidly loses its value if all the participants have the same, predictable workflow, like processing an undisputed insurance claim. The idea is to educate each other on the realities of their work duties and to help break down silos across organizational areas. Once the insights start coming out, this game can significantly increase the understanding and appreciation of others’ work. And it can be even more effective when you have players who have to work together but historically have had little insight into—or even patience with—their colleagues’ processes.

Most people feel comfortable drawing basic shapes and workflow-related diagrams since these are common in company life. If, however, players balk at having to draw, tell them they’re welcome to rely only on words, but they’ll miss an opportunity to make a simple picture of someone else’s “world” at work.

The source for the Welcome to My World game is unknown.

Posted on 1 Comment

Open Space

Meshforum 2006

Object of Play
Open Space technology is a method for hosting large events, such as retreats and conferences, without a prepared agenda. Instead, participants are brought together under a guiding purpose and create the agenda for themselves in a bulletin-board fashion. These items become potential breakout sessions, and participants have the freedom to “vote with their feet” by moving between breakouts.

Open Space was founded by Harrison Owen in the 1980s out of a desire to “open the space” for people to self-organize around a purpose. Many meetings and examples have been recorded at Hosting a small Open Space meeting is fairly straightforward, but requires an amount of “letting go” on the part of the organizer, who must recognize that the participants will develop a richer approach and solution to the challenge at hand.

Number of Players: 5–2,000

Duration of Play: A day or longer

How to Play

Setup: An Open Invitation
Perhaps the most important work of the organizer is developing a compelling invitation. The ideal invitation will frame a challenge that is urgent, important, and complex enough to require a diverse set of perspectives to solve. It might sound as simple as “How can we revitalize our city’s schools?” or “What’s our strategic direction?”

Create the Marketplace
At the start of the process, participants sit in a circle, or in concentric circles, to get oriented and start to create their agenda. Given the challenge of the meeting, participants are invited to come to the center and write out an issue they’re passionate about, and then post it on a “marketplace” wall with a time and place at which they are willing to host the discussion. All are invited to create an item for the marketplace, but no one is required to. Creating the agenda in this fashion should take between 60 and 90 minutes.

The “Law of Two Feet”
The breakouts then begin, typically lasting 90 minutes per session. Participants may organize their breakouts however they see fit; the host records the discussion so that others may join the conversation at any time. Participants are asked to observe the one law of Open Space, the Law of Two Feet, which asks that if you find yourself neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet to go somewhere else. In this sense, participants are given full responsibility over their learning and contributions.

Pulling It All Together
Breakouts may last for a day or more, depending on the scope of the event. Closing the event may take many forms, the least desirable of which is a formal report from the groups. Instead, return to the circle arrangement that started the event, and open the space again for participants who want to reflect on what they’ve discovered and their next steps.

Keep in mind the four principles of Open Space that will help set the tone of the event:

1. Whoever comes are the right people. Passion is more important than position on an org chart.

2. Whenever it starts is the right time. Spirit and creativity do not run on the clock.

3. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. Dwelling or complaining about past events and missed opportunities is a waste of time; move on.

4. When it’s over, it’s over. When a conversation is finished, move on. Do the work, not the time.

You can read more about Open Space at

Open Space game rules been popularized and incorporated into many self-organizing events which are known under different names, most prominently BarCamps and Unconferences. The concept of Open Space was put forth in Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, by Harrison Owen.

Posted on 2 Comments

Poster Session

Meshforum 2006

Object of Play
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what would 50 pictures be worth? What if 50 people could present their most passionate ideas to each other—without any long-winded explanation? A poster session accelerates the presentation format by breaking it down, forcing experts to boil up their ideas and then present back to each other via simple images.

Number of Players: 10–100

Duration of Play: 20 minutes to develop posters, an unlimited time to browse

How to Play
The goal of a poster session is to create a set of compelling images that summarize a challenge or topic for further discussion. Creating this set might be an “opening act” which then sets the stage for choosing an idea to pursue, or it might be a way to get indexed on a large topic. The act of creating a poster forces experts and otherwise passionate people to stop and think about the best way to communicate the core concepts of
their material, avoiding the popular and default “show up and throw up.”

To set up, everyone will need ample supplies for creating their poster. Flip charts and markers are sufficient, but consider bringing other school supplies to bear: stickers, magazines for cutting up, and physical objects.
Start the game play by first framing the challenge. In any given large group, you could say the following:

“There are more good ideas in everyone’s heads than there is time to understand and address them. By creating posters that explain the ideas, we’ll have a better idea of what’s out there and what we might work on.”

The participants’ task is to create a poster that explains their topic. There are two constraints:

1. It must be self-explanatory. If you gave it to a person without walking her through it, would she understand?

2. It must be visual. Words and labels are good, but text alone will not be enough to get people’s attention, or help them understand. When creating their poster, participants may be helped by thinking about three kinds of explanation:

Before and After: Describe “why” someone should care in terms of drawing the today and tomorrow of the idea.

System: Describe the “what” of an idea in terms of its parts and their relationships.

Process: Describe the “how” of an idea in terms of a sequence of events.

Give participants 20 minutes to create their posters. When they have finished, create a “gallery” of the images by posting them on the wall. Instead of elaborate presentations, ask the group to circulate and walk the gallery. Some posters will attract and capture more attention than others. From here, it may be worthwhile to have participants dot vote (see Dot Voting) or “vote with their feet” (See Open Space) to decide what ideas to pursue further.

As a variation, the posters may be created in small groups. In this case, it’s important for the group to have decided ahead of time what their topic will be, and to give more time to come to a consensus on what they will draw and how they will draw it.

On a smaller scale, a group may do this around a conference table. A small group of experts may create posters to explain their different points of view to each other at the start of a meeting, to make their models of the world, their vocabulary, and their interests clear and explicit. Twenty minutes spent in this way may save the group from endless discussion later in their process.

The Poster Session game is based on academic poster sessions, in which authors of papers that are not ready for publication share their ideas in an informal, conversational group.

Posted on 3 Comments

Force Field Analysis

Force Field Analysis
Force Field image by Seth Starner

Object of Play
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus asserted that change alone is unchanging. This is certainly true in today’s competitive global marketplace. As employees, we’re often responsible for understanding and even anticipating change in order to stay ahead. The Force Field Analysis game is a time-tested way to evaluate the forces that affect change which can ultimately affect our organizations. Making a deliberate effort to see the system surrounding change can help us steer the change in the direction we want it to move.

Number of Players: 5–30

Duration of Play: 30 minutes to 1.5 hours

How to Play
1. Before the meeting, draw a picture of a potential change in the middle of a large sheet of paper or a whiteboard. You can draw a literal representation (e.g., a manufacturing plant) or a more abstract representation (e.g., a metaphor). Label the picture to ensure that everyone participating will be clear on the topic.

2. On the top left of the page, write the phrase “Forces FOR Change”. On the top right, write the phrase “Forces AGAINST Change”.

3. Draw arrows on both sides pointing toward the image in the middle. These will be the areas that contain categories generated by the group, so make the arrows large enough to write 1–2-inch letters inside. If you like the “wow” factor of drawing live with the group but you’re not yet comfortable with freehand, sketch the arrows in pencil or yellow marker and trace them during the meeting.

4. When the group is gathered, introduce the change topic and explain that the goal of the Force Field Analysis game is to evaluate the feasibility of that change.

5. Ask the players to take 5–10 minutes and quietly generate ideas about what elements are driving the change. Tell them to include one idea per sticky note.

6. Ask the players to take 5–10 minutes and quietly generate ideas about what elements are restraining the change.

7. Draw a simple scale with a range of 1 to 5 on your main flip chart. Indicate that 1 means the force is weak and 5 means the force is strong. Ask them to review each idea FOR change and add a number to that sticky note, weighting that idea. Ask them to review each idea AGAINST change and add a number to that sticky note, weighting that idea.

8. Gather all of the sticky notes FOR change and post them to any flat surface viewable by the players.

9. With the group’s collaboration, sort the ideas based on their affinity to other ideas. For example, if they produced three sticky notes that say “Can’t continue production at current cost”, “Materials cost too high”, and “Overexpenditure on production”, cluster those ideas together. Create multiple clusters until you have clustered the majority of the sticky notes. Place outliers separate from the clusters but still in playing

10. After the sorting activity is complete, begin a group conversation to create an overarching category for each cluster. For example, an overarching category for the cluster from step 9 might be “unsustainable costs”.

11. As the group makes suggestions and finds agreement on categories, write those categories inside the arrows on the main visual.

12. As you categorize each cluster, direct the group’s attention to the numeric scores within that cluster. Get an average for each cluster and write that number next to the related category in the arrow.

13. Repeat steps 8–12 using the sticky notes generated AGAINST change.

14. Add the quantities for and against change and write the totals at the bottom and on the appropriate side of the sheet.

15. Summarize the overall findings with the group, including the numeric totals, and discuss the implications of whether change should occur.

Force Field example

Often when you play the Force Field Analysis game, it will not be the first time the players have considered the change under discussion. Many of them will have preconceived beliefs about whether the change should occur. So, be aware of group dynamics—whether they’re eager for or resistant to the change. If you sense that they’re eager, encourage them to give equal consideration to forces against it. If they seem reluctant, encourage them to imagine their wildest dream with respect to this change and describe what’s already in place to support it. Don’t let employees with fixed perspectives on either side dominate the conversation.

This game is about exploring the viability of change in an open-minded way. So, be sure to acknowledge and discuss any ideas that end up as outliers in the clusters—they frequently turn out to be valuable by offering unforeseen perspectives. Along that same line, don’t assume that the numeric totals resolutely answer the question of whether change should occur. The totals are another gauge by which to measure where the group may stand. Use them as fodder for further conversation and evaluation. And if you want to take the evaluation further, ask the group to look for meta-categories after they’ve brainstormed the categories within the arrows. Meta-categories should be a level higher than the categories generated from the clusters. They could include “politics”, “economics”, “company culture”, or “mid-level management”. Seeing meta-categories can also help the group determine where the bulk of the evaluation may need to be focused.

This game is based on the Force Field Analysis framework developed by Kurt Lewin.

Posted on 4 Comments

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis

Object of Play
In business, it can be easier to have certainty around what we want, but more difficult to understand what’s impeding us in getting it. The SWOT Analysis is a long-standing technique of looking at what we have going for us with respect to a desired end state, as well as what we could improve on. It gives us an opportunity to gauge approaching opportunities and dangers, and assess the seriousness of the conditions that affect our future. When we understand those conditions, we can influence what comes next. So, if you need to evaluate your organization or team’s current likelihood of success relative to an objective.

Number of Players: 5–20

Duration of Play: 1–2 hours

How to Play
1. Before the meeting, write the phrase “Desired End State” and draw a picture of what it might look like on a piece of flip-chart paper.

2. Create a separate four-square quadrant using four sheets of flip-chart paper. If you think the complexity of the discussion and the number of players warrants more quadrants, create as many as you’d like.

3. At the top left of the quadrant, write the word “STRENGTHS” and draw a picture depicting that concept. For example, for “STRENGTHS” you might draw a simple picture of someone holding up a car with one hand. (Yes, you’re allowed to exaggerate.) Ask the players to take 5–10 minutes and quietly generate ideas about strengths they have with respect to the desired end state and write them on sticky notes, one idea per sticky note.

4. At the bottom left of the quadrant, write the word “WEAKNESSES” and draw a picture depicting that concept. Ask the players again to take 5–10 minutes to quietly generate ideas about weaknesses around the desired end state and write them on sticky notes.

5. At the top right of the quadrant, write the word “OPPORTUNITIES” and draw a picture. Ask the players to take 5–10 minutes to write ideas about opportunities on sticky notes.

6. At the bottom right of the quadrant, write the word “THREATS” and draw a picture depicting that concept. Ask the players to use this last set of 5–10 minutes to generate ideas about perceived threats and write them on sticky notes.

7. When you sense a lull in sticky-note generation, gather all of the sticky notes and post them on a flat surface that is near the quadrant and is viewable by the players. Be sure to keep the sticky notes in their original groups of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

8. Start with the STRENGTHS group of sticky notes and, with the players’ collaboration, sort the ideas based on their affinity to other ideas. For example, if they produced three sticky notes that say “good sharing of information,” “information transparency,” and “people willing to share data,” cluster those ideas together. Create multiple clusters until you have clustered the majority of the sticky notes. Place outliers separate from the clusters but still in playing range. (At this stage, it’s important to note that if you have a group with five players or less, you can eliminate the sticky-note clustering process and simply write and draw their responses for each category as the players verbalize them. After you’ve gone through each section of the quadrant, players can dot vote.) Repeat the clustering and sorting process for the other categories in this order: WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, and finally, THREATS.

9. After the sorting and clustering is complete, start a group conversation to create a broad category for each smaller cluster. For example, a category for the cluster from step 8 might be “communication”. As the group makes suggestions and finds agreement on categories, write those categories in the appropriate quadrant.

10. When the players feel comfortable with the categories, ask them to approach the quadrant and dot vote next to two or three categories in each square, indicating that they believe those to be the most relevant for that section. Circle or highlight the information that got the most votes and make a note of it with the group.

11. Summarize the overall findings in conversation with the players and ask them to discuss the implications around the desired end state. Engage the group in a creative exercise wherein they evaluate weaknesses and threats positively, as though their presence is doing them a favor. Ask them thought-provoking
questions, like “What if your competition didn’t exist?” and “How does this threat have the potential to make the organization stronger?”

Optional activity: Lead the group in creating silly slogans for the desired end state. Let them be ridiculous: “Our lamps will light up the world.” The idea is to create humor and excitement around possibilities.

The SWOT Analysis is at its best when the group is unabashed in its provision and analysis of content. The players are less likely to be shy about their strengths, but they may struggle to suggest weaknesses due to sensitivity to other players or to blind spots in their own thinking. Frame the notion of “weakness” to mean something that can be improved upon. Similarly, a “threat” is something that can act as a catalyst for performance improvement. Let the group know that the higher the quality of their contributions, the better they will be able to evaluate what’s on the horizon. You’ll have a good sense that
the game was successful when you hear the group thoughtfully consider the data and express insights they didn’t have before.

This game was inspired by Albert Humphrey’s traditional SWOT Analysis.